Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 1950s
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Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
This movie is representative of the pervasive epic illness that infected so many 1950s winner. I'm guessing that the studios saw TV as strong competition and decided to create films that were light on plot and characters but filled to the brim with spectacular (for the 1950s) images and glitzy dancing and singing. Around the World in 80 days is less like an actual movie and more like a boring travelogue slide show. There's room for action and adventure here but instead time is wasted on things like the overlong bullfight from hell and animals grazing in India.
The least creepy thing about this movie is a 33 year old man marrying a 16 yer old in what is supposed to be a happy ending. Societal judging aside Gigi is mostly boring with uninteresting characters and far too few useful things to say. It looks beautiful though.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
More successful then similar epic Around the World in 80 Days and that's only because of one rollicking train wreck sequence that closes the film. Other than that it has the overblown epic malady in spades. I thought it was bad when Cecil B. Demille decided to show a circus parade in its entirety. Then, 45 minutes later, he decided to show another circus parade in its entirety - this one featuring some of the most obvious product placement ever (it shows horribly costumed Disney characters parading while slack jawed yokels excitedly shout Goofy! and Mickey!). It's quasi circus documentary stuff works pretty well but the love story here is one of the worst written ones I've ever seen.
An American in Paris (1951)
Directed by the same guy who did Gigi, An American in Paris is slightly more successful because it combines its luscious cinematography with a more tasteful and fun love story. It has a ridiculous conclusion and an almost inexplicable 15 minute long silent ballet sequence but at least its trying something new.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
I was expecting a bit more from this one based on its reputation and that really famous beach scene. Still its a nicely plotted war (though it mostly takes place before Pearl Harbor) drama that has a really interesting time and place for its setting. When those bombs go off in the end you kind of realize how petty and unimportant all the romantic drama was. I don't know, however, if that's a good or bad thing.
If overblown, overlong epics like Around the World in 80 Days and The Greatest Show on Earth are poisoning your soul than Marty is your antidote. It is still the shortest Best Picture winner and that actually might be a fault. It focuses on two characters beginning their romantic entanglement but you get so wrapped up in their stories and their personalities that the abrupt ending feels almost cheap. Both leads are solid but I wish they had given Betsy Blair more screen time and more to do.
On the Waterfront (1954)
This is one of those great personal stories that only a director who sold other people down the river could make. It has a find performance by Brando, some incredibly memorable and moving scenes and a mostly interesting story.
All the King's Men (1949)
Filled with high political drama and a great acting performance by Broderick Crawford. The last few minutes are gripping and about as shocking as a film released in 1949 can be.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
A surprisingly balanced look at life in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. The movie has some problems with its action choreography (especially the gun fights) but that doesn't prevent it from having at least a couple insanely memorable set pieces. The fight among the bats is great and there is, of course, the famous sequence of the bridge blowing up. It's to the film's credit that the destruction of a bridge built through forced POW labor is the most emotional and tragic scene in the film.
All About Eve (1950)
All About Eve is filled with wonderful memorable characters and its plot is different enough to really make it stand out from the crowd. It is one of the best ruminations on the pitfalls and benefits of fame that has ever been created. Anne Baxter's performance here as the devious Eve is one for the ages. One of the few timeless Best Picture winners from this decade.
I've made it my current goal to watch all the Best Picture winning films. Here's my ranking for the victors from 1950-1959. NOTE: My dates here are based off the year in which a film actually took home the statue and not the release year.
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